What in the preseason could have been seen as an easy victory has suddenly turned into a very dangerous game for Minnesota’s women’s basketball team.
The 22nd-ranked Gophers (17-8, 9-5 Big Ten) are in desperate need of a victory when they face Indiana at 7 p.m. today at Williams Arena.
Indiana is one of the surprise teams of the conference a year after finishing ninth in the Big Ten with a 3-13 record.
The Hoosiers (15-10, 9-5 Big Ten) are tied with Minnesota for fourth place, and are making a push for the NCAA Tournament with three straight wins.
Despite its respectable conference record, Indiana made its biggest statement on Sunday, defeating No. 12 Purdue 63-61 in overtime in West Lafayette, Ind.
It was the second-place Boilermakers’ only home loss of the season.
“They’ve definitely improved as the year’s gone on and we’ve seen that they’ve beaten big teams,” junior guard Kelly Roysland said. “It’s a very big game for us ‘ we’re definitely not taking them lightly.”
Minnesota beat the Hoosiers 69-64 on Jan. 9 on the road, but first-year Indiana coach, Sharon Versyp, said her team is better since that meeting.
“Through the season our bench has grown quite a bit,” Versyp said. “Against Purdue they were the key to bring us back in that game. Our depth has been much better and that has helped us win some games.”
Contrasting the Gophers’ strong inside game Jamie Broback, Liz Podominick and Natasha Williams is the Hoosiers backcourt, most notably senior guard Cyndi Valentin.
Valentin is second in the Big Ten in scoring, averaging 18 points per game and has led the Hoosiers in scoring in almost 70 percent of their games.
“(Valentin) down the stretch has just been huge for us,” Versyp said.
Minnesota’s guards haven’t been as productive this season, with Shannon Schonrock and Roysland leading the way at just over eight points per game.
Coach Pam Borton said she hadn’t yet decided if she was going to start Roysland for the second consecutive game in place of senior April Calhoun.
“Putting (Roysland) in the starting lineup, I just felt we needed a change,” Borton said. “She’s always given us a spark offensively off the bench Ö She just brings a different dimension to the guards we have on the floor.”
Said Borton: “We’ve got a chance for 17 wins and a chance to finish third in the Big Ten. We’ve just got to get ourselves going in the right direction.”